The Future Leaders Awards program is brought to you in partnership with Homecare Homebase. The program is designed to recognize up-and-coming industry members who are shaping the next decade of home health, hospice care, senior housing, skilled nursing and behavioral health. To see this year’s Future Leaders, visit https://futureleaders.agingmedia.com/.
April Stewart, the vice president of access and innovation at the Los Angeles-based 24 Hour Home Care, has been named a 2023 Future Leader by Home Health Care News.
To become a Future Leader, an individual is nominated by their peers. The candidate must be a high-performing employee who is 40-years-old or younger, a passionate worker who knows how to put vision into action, and an advocate for seniors, and the committed professionals who ensure their well-being.
Stewart sat down with HHCN to talk about her path to home-based care, the rise of value-based care, quality of life considerations and more.
HHCN: What drew you to this industry?
Stewart: Key experiences in high school inspired me to pursue a career in home- and community-based services. I met my now lifelong friend who has a developmental disability in 9th grade. He never let his disability get in the way of full community inclusion.
As his friend, I became part of his circle of support and learned how big an impact person-centered care can have in empowering people to live the life they choose — which is most often in their own home and community. He now lives in his own apartment with support staff who help with instrumental activities of daily living.
The opportunity to make a difference every day through empowering this level of independence and choice for people with disabilities with onsets at any age is my life passion.
What’s your biggest lesson learned since starting to work in this industry?
Policy and regulation plays a huge role in access to services and person-centered flexibilities in care. I learned the importance of involvement in health care advocacy to ensure policy, regulation and funding levels line up to enable value-based, culturally competent and accessible care.
If you could change one thing with an eye toward the future of home care, what would it be?
I would love to see caregiving and home care services be more integrated into the health care community.
Our caregivers are the eyes and ears in the home, and already actively notice and take action on change of conditions, ensuring care plans are followed, etc. There is so much potential to be a more integrated part of managing chronic conditions with improved data exchanges and communication with our clinical partners serving mutual clients.
What do you foresee as being different about the home care industry looking ahead to 2024 and beyond?
I think like most health care, we are moving from a volume-based to a value-based system. COVID-19 showed the health care industry and our communities the critical role home- and community-based care plays in capacity-building for the system and care outcomes.
I think we will start seeing more innovative and integrated programs that encompass home- and community-based care as key elements. I believe we will start seeing a higher demand for data and outcome-based reporting versus. task-based reporting in the near future.
In a word, how would you describe the future of home care?
I think we are experiencing a high level of change industry-wide in home care. The market is very different than it was when I joined the industry 15 years ago. Health care is moving away from focusing on deficits — bathing, transfers, getting dressed, etc. — and towards creating quality of life.
It’s more common now for people to want to talk to us about their goals. Goals are typically about independence, socialization, community inclusion and preserving personal identity while managing a chronic condition. Personal care becomes an input into personal goals and overall health rather than consistently getting a bath being the end goal of our services.
I think we are going to see innovative care models, staffing solutions and goal-based care plans to provide better value and outcomes to the people we serve.
If you could give advice to yourself looking back to your first day in the industry, what would it be and why?
Don’t be afraid to specialize or take an untraditional career path. When organization leaders used to ask what future roles I was interested in, early in my career I would say what I thought they wanted to hear. Or I felt like I had to say something that fit into a traditional bucket of “realistic” opportunities.
For example, there were clear paths to becoming a sales or operations leader as new territories were launched. I always had an internal fear of being bucketed into a specialty too early and struggled to admit that I wanted to do something different than our typical growth paths. What I didn’t realize is that these fears held me back from having genuine conversations that could have supported company and personal growth.
Since becoming more open about what I want to do and the impact I want to make in my career, I have been empowered to take on a unique role leading service access and innovation. The health care innovation role is becoming more common as a focus area in health care organizations interested in staying on top of a rapidly evolving health care market.
If you have a special interest or an opportunity where leadership is actively asking for your input on your career path, take the risk of saying what is truly on your mind and heart. It may just lead to your dream job and ability to make a unique impact.
To learn more about the Future Leaders program, visit https://futureleaders.agingmedia.com/.